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Rajasthan's Royal Triumph

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Shane_Watson_IPL_Rajasthan_RoyalsBarring the princely and opulent tone associated with the phrase 'Royals', there is a certain flair and understated charisma attached to the fervour and spirit with which Rajasthan's young and experienced play the gentleman's game of cricket. The playing eleven combine the effective brilliance of their skills: fine cricketing brains, courage and an innate ability to test their strengths to the limit. Rajasthan's fair and focused manner of contesting ensures that their battles are fought by the skills of the bat and ball without indulging in diatribes and needless ungentlemanly gestures towards their opponents.

IPL 2015 has proved yet again to be the spectacular, nail-biting and yet, totally unpredictable show of brilliant all round cricket even though the play-offs are yet to begin. In a format whose central template seems to be an adrenaline rush punched with uncertainty, we have had some usual brilliance from the Chennai Super Kings, some performances to die for by the Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore, both outfits succeeding to scale a series of insurmountable summits despite languishing at the bottom of the table at some point. Delhi have demonstrated a bit of flair and talent, but in patches, seemingly enveloping themselves in a layer that is anything but indicative of daredevilry. Sunrisers Hyderabad have thrashed quite a few teams in their journey to a point where they might or might not make it to the playoffs. In the wake of their rise to some form, they have brought about a sunset on the visibly inconsistent sides of Delhi and Punjab, and in the process almost nearly upset a superior and seemingly stronger unit of Bangalore during the recently concluded cliff-hanger, where Kohli and Gayle's exploits along with the unwelcome help of rain, managed to upstage David Warner and Moises Henriques' brilliance. 

In all the astonishing drama that has unfolded so far, one particular team's reputation saw it all: a surprising and highly unanticipated rise, followed by a consistently stellar show, and a sudden reversal of fortunes that almost had them exit of the competition, as if the outfit was rather indifferent to the litany of woes that surrounded their recent battering at the hands of the opposition. But, on May 16th, Rajasthan Royals who were sitting at 6th place in the competition, suddenly sprang back into action and became only the second team after the solid Chennai Super Kings to qualify for the next stage of the tournament. For a side that has always conjured up spirited performances, where foreign players team up to support an able rally of youngsters instead of the other way round, their triumph against Kolkata Knight Riders yesterday was by no means a usual break-through. The first team in the tournament to notch up 5 straight wins, doing better than even Chennai, not many would have thought that the Rajasthan Royals would find themselves in a do-or- die, must-win game against Kolkata at the CCI in Mumbai. 

Despite their heart-breaking defeats at the hands of MI and RCB; a previous loss to KXIP (where they lost in the super over despite putting up 191 on board); two rain affected games that ultimately impacted their progress in the tournament; and the visible plight of not playing at their accustomed home ground of Jaipur, their impregnable fortress, Rajasthan still managed to present the IPL with their most amazing offering: the unique quality of churning up outstanding unheard players who by their sheer talent make IPL a tournament of surprises. They ultimately crown the 'average outfit lacking cricketing heavyweights' into a great force to contend with. The new stars that shone from the Royals' galaxy this time were Deepak Hooda and Ankit Sharma, supported by the unassuming brilliance of Chris Morris and Sanju Samson. Not your usual picks for their playing eleven but ultimately, key players that have made the Royals such a cohesive unit. 

In the tournament where slow bowlers have struck gold as much as the big hitters with their lusty blows over the ropes, Rajasthan have been both criticized and applauded for their triumphs and defeats. Nonetheless, respect governs the undertone of comments from their array of fans and critics alike. A side with the likes of James Faulkner, Steven Smith, Ajinkya Rahane, Pravin Tambe and Tim Southee is not the ideal outfit to give the opposition nightmares, but it gives a sense of reassurance to the founding belief of the team: brilliance is stitched by the entire unit performing together rather than holding a single performer responsible for turning the tide for the side. But, despite the risk of sounding caustic it has to be said that Steve Smith and James Faulkner have been disappointing so far. The bulk of the side’s batting responsibility has been shouldered bravely by Ajinkya Rahane, who had managed to don the Orange cap for a long spell and may yet reclaim it.

Known as much for his fitness concerns as his world class talent, Shane Watson's contribution prior to the critical game against the Knight Riders was largely reminiscent of a batsman struggling to find the rhythm to get going, despite smooth starts. An embattled captain, an inconsistent but supremely gifted bat, a player looking for inspiration to somehow twirl some magic from somewhere to find some hope, Watson seemed to be missing the divine company of ex-captain and current mentor Rahul Dravid in the middle, a player with whom he has lead the Royals to many triumphs in past editions of the tournament. Watto, as he is affectionately known, was looking for the special knock that he felt he owed the team. What better occasion to get back into the thick of the things than their most crucial game in the tournament so far. At the Brabourne stadium in Mumbai, their new home along with Ahmedabad, the Royals had everything going in their favour, starting with winning the toss. It didn't take the side’s openers long before they announced their intentions, scoring better than a run a ball from the very first over. While on one hand Ajinkya Rahane was fluent and attacking in equal parts, on the other hand Watson was watchful from the start and depended on his gift of timing the ball to fetch him the much needed runs that seemed to have dried up at some part of the tournament. While Rahane perished after stroking a breezy 37 from 22 in a bid to squeeze an extra run that never was in his bid to score from every given opportunity, batsmen at the other end came and went, leaving in Shane Watson's hands the fate of an evening that could have gone either way. But, seldom to bow down in front of challenges, Watson rose to the occasion and how. At the completion of their stipulated 20 overs, the Royals finished with a huge 199 for the loss of 6 wickets and Watson alone scored a 104 of those runs, for just 59 deliveries. In a knock that inspired confidence not just in the man looking to score a big one, but for the collective interest of the team, Shane Watson's determined, unbeaten century guided his beloved Rajasthan to the unlikely shores of victory in a spirited fashion. Watchful of fast bowlers and spinners alike and cautious even in stroking those handsome blows over the ropes, Shane Watson dismissed one from Morne Morkel of all bowlers in the 19th over to a 101 meter monstrous blow. In total he hit 5 devastating sixes that had the imprints of a rich assault being fashioned by a true modern giant of the game. 

In terms of its impact on reversing the fortunes of both sides: his home team edged closer to the conclusion of the tournament and his opponents slipped from any hope of redemption toward their inevitable ousting. Watson compiled a knock that shall stay as one of the best ever in helping a glorious but embattled side to rediscover its lost mojo. It has to be said that in a side that lacks heavyweights unlike the rest, Watson's bat and heroics generate as much pomp and splendour as any you would find.



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